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Bedford speakers hail D-Day heroes

South Boston News
Vice-President Pence in Bedford / June 10, 2019
D-Day veteran Hamet Piercy of South Hill proudly collected a special commemorative coin Thursday at the 75th anniversary remembrance of one of the most consequential events ever in war.

Piercy was part of a distinguished group of more than 100 World War II veterans honored at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, with more than 10,000 in attendance.

Speakers including Vice-President Mike Pence and U.S. Senator Mark Warner paid tribute to the gallantry and valor of the D-Day invasion force that broke German defenses on the beaches of France and led to the ultimate defeat of Hitler and the Nazi regime.

The Bedford anniversary commemoration, 75 years to the day after the June 6, 1944 Normandy assault, featured an aerial demonstration of World War II aircraft, as well as a display of modern military weaponry.

Much of the focus was on the iconic “Bedford Boys.”

This group of heroic Southside Virginians was recognized during the ceremony. The National D-Day Memorial overlooks the community that suffered the greatest loss per capita of any in the United States during the invasion of Normandy.

Piercy, who now resides in a Blackstone nursing home, attended the Thursday event along with other members of the dwindling community of World War II veterans. Beforehand, soldiers from Ft. Pickett in Blackstone visited with Piercy at Heritage Hall nursing home to honor and interview the D-Day survivor.

Virginia State Senator Frank Ruff (R-15th), who grew up in Bedford, was on hand to see Piercy receive his commemorative coin at Thursday’s ceremony.

“It’s good to come home for such a noble reason today,” said Ruff afterward. “When we were giving the medals, I met at least four that I knew.

“There were people that recognized my name and … talked about my father, there were people were really struggling to get through. It was an honor to be able to shake their hand and thank them one more time,” said Ruff.

Recalling the D-Day veterans he knew growing up in Bedford, Ruff brought up the story of Roy Stevens, a neighbor who served in the A/116th infantry/29th Division. “Roy lived down the road from us. His (twin) brother (Ray) had reached out when they were loading the boats, and wanted to shake his hand. He said, ‘We’ll shake hands on the beach.’ His brother died in the water and never made it to the beach,” said Ruff.

Thursday’s ceremony in Bedford included messages of appreciation from the French, who held a national ceremony Thursday at Normandy, attended by many of the world’s leaders, honoring the sacrifice and valor of the invasion force from American and Allied forces that turned the course of the war. A number of officials from France either sent messages of appreciation or participated in the ceremonies at the National D-Day Memorial.

Southside Virginia, and Halifax County and South Boston, had a significant stake in D-Day.

William “Bill” Snead, Jr., who attended the Bedford event, shared memories of his late father, W.R. Snead Sr., a D-Day veteran. The family never knew that the elder Snead had fought at and survived Omaha Beach until the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

Thursday’s ceremonies in Bedford featured a stunning display of World War II aircraft –ranging from the C-47 Flyover, the B-17 and B-25 flyover to a German FW-190 flyover, and the venerable P-51. The courage of the Royal Air Force was remembered, especially for the Battle of Britain. The aerial show later shifted to include the United States Air Force Flyover, capped with an emotional Missing Man Flyover, an aerial salute to commemorate the lives of warriors killed in combat.

The ceremony also included a procession of solemn remembrances, including remarks by George Patton ‘Pat’ Waters, grandson of General George Patton, on the famed D-Day order delivered by General Eisenhower. President Franklin Roosevelt’s D-Day prayer was presented by Steve Newman, Virginia State Senator representing the Bedford area.

The D-Day announcement by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was delivered by Air Vice-Marshall Gavin Douglas Anthony Parker, Defence Attache, United Kingdom.

Virginia Senator Warner and Vice-President Pence paid heartfelt tribute to the Bedford Boys, the D-Day veterans and the presence of World War II servicemen who freed Western Europe of Nazi aggression.

Pence delivered the keynote address.

“It is my great honor to be here today in the presence of men that fought on D-Day 75 years ago,” said Pence. “It was not just a continent you took back from tyranny; you delivered a world into freedom.

“I tell you today that we see you not just as you are, but as you were,” Pence said. “We marvel at the courage that you showed as young men.

“You are among the greatest Americans that have ever lived,” he said. “You are the pride of this country and we take one more opportunity today to say, ‘thank you.’

“Bedford — like every town in our nation — gave its finest,” Pence said.

“Warner also paid tribute.

“These men stepped up when their country needed them the most,” Warner said. “It’s the spirit of that sacrifice that we celebrate today and will continue to celebrate so history will never forget what happened on D-Day.”

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